In Need Of Appropriate Title…

When all is said and done, it’s a major conference tournament. The BCS conferences are making policy. They have the power and that’s okay.” –Tom Pecora, six months before his Hofstra team was passed over for an at large berth to the NCAA tournament. Its RPI (30) was the second lowest ever to miss.

***

I keep shuffling through the email and intentionally bypass eight or nine of them. I don’t know why, because it is way out of character for me to ignore a request; especially these requests, especially this week. Normally I’ve replied, included the requested information, and probably added a barb or quip or quote. But not this year. Those emails are rather like a prisoner being told he was denied for parole: there’s so much hope dashed, but so many questions as to whether or not it was ever really wanted.

The emails are all the same: invitations to join NCAA Tournament pools. We’re about 18 hours from tipoff of the best day of the best month of year, and I haven’t filled out one bracket sheet. Not one bracket, not one game. This is no Whelliston Challenge, either, though I will be filling out a blank bracket as we progress. It’s different.

I am simply unable to muster the interest to get past staring at a bracket sheet, thinking “boy I like Davidson and St. Mary’s, and that’s a great draw for Mason.” At that point I glance at a pen, shift the cast to a more comfortable position, and notice that I need to write a check for my oil bill. Ten minutes later the process repeats itself, only this time I peer back into my email to answer a question about user acceptance testing.

Let’s be clear–at 12:08 tomorrow, I will turn on the television to my local CBS affiliate. I will hit CBS Sports online and move the browser(s) around until I find the best placement for working and score-tracking. I work from home, so there’s the possibility I won’t have showered.

The NCAA Tournament and March Madness remains very important to me, but it has changed over the past two years. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some very intelligent and well-meaning people, and some have changed the way in which I look at the sport. Or rather, they re-educated me as to why I suffer through this friggin blog every single day.

You see, I grew up just off Exit 76 of Tobacco Road. I was sitting in University Hall at age seven, cheering on Billy Langloh and Marc Iavaroni and a Virginia team whose assistant was a guy named Larranaga. At some point–and I don’t really care when–college basketball became about RPI and SOS and breaking down resumes. Bracketology? Huh?

I’m certain the editorial struggle with this blog is due to a slow realization that we have been measuring this whole deal incorrectly. It’s east to fall prey to the numbers, especially this time of year. The number of scenarios we created for VCUs inclusion, as I look back, are hysterical. And pitiful. And going on everywhere else you can find a bubble team.

This past Sunday ended that mirage. Kentucky and Arizona and media foofs incensed that Arizona State was robbed (don’t look at its RPI, but you must look at Arizona’s) have been the blessing. The stupid ratings systems that are only quoted when they best serve the needs of its evaluators will be just that from here on out.

There’s a reason there’s no fantasy college basketball. It’s not about the numbers.

Again, let’s be clear. I’m a numbers geek. Love the work of Pomeroy, Gasaway, and Whelliston. One of the greatest moments of the past two seasons for me was getting a surprised look from Anthony Grant when I framed a question by quoting his possessions per game and defensive points per possession.

But no more of that comparison stuff, no more of the Slim Shady accounting that always seems to favor the major conferences. The sooner you realize it isn’t about leveling the playing field, the better. Granted, the RPI makes for great conversation. Only frustrated fans and interviewees in desperate need of content go that route. No, we’ll stick to the sport, never apologize for cheering, and use numbers to frame the things we believe are important.

It’s a delicate balance, I know.

It’s why CAA: LAMM can’t get enough of Towson’s Jon Pease, whose career personified what we’re trying to do here. Dude battled through countless knee surgeries and played on some horrible teams. Had some statistically wonderful games, some impactful games that weren’t borne out in a boxscore, and had some bad games. But Pease never once cheated his coach on effort. By extension, he never cheated Towson University nor its fans. Even after Pat Kennedy started bringing in jucos by the boatload Pease just kept battling.

The lesson: sometimes it’s about the numbers. Many times it isn’t. Stop trying to carve the numbers when it is never going to go your way. The bracket sheet is the ultimate end result of what we’re talking about. You can carve up the numbers and matchups however you need them to be carved, and the end result is that your bracket is the best.

Yeah, I’ll hastily fill out a bracket or two. Probably tomorrow morning, and the entire process will take about eight minutes.

But the majority of my time over the next three weeks will be spent soaking in the NCAA tournament, not breaking it down nor worrying too much about my picks. You will see this pay off into the future.

Very much like the 2006 George Mason Patriots.

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~ by mglitos on March 19, 2008.

3 Responses to “In Need Of Appropriate Title…”

  1. Well said, Mike. Great post. Let’s hope my Mason boys can make the CAA proud tonight. (Sadly, college hoops seems to have been taken over by an obsession with numbers, similar to our American educational system…but, that’s another blog.)

  2. I’ve recently heard stories about how people don’t connect like they used to. We’re all so busy, and we have electronic devices in our ears or laptops in our faces most of the time, so we don’t make small talk, casual acquaintances, etc. I think that’s a big part of why seemingly pointless and dumb things like office pools and fantasy baseball drafts have become so meaningful. Because we all actually spend portions of each day talking to each other about “who will win” and “Johnny Damon doesn’t get on base enough to be drafted that high” and such. Rarely do people care about the content of what they’re discussing nearly so much as the fact that they’re discussing it face-to-face.

    I think of the bracket picking and the bracket filling as two separate things. Picking is social, filling in the bracket with the facts is intensely personal, and I derive great enjoyment from the moment a score goes final and I can write the next name – in ink – on my Wash Post bracket. I hope everyone enjoys both this year.

  3. Well that was fun, see you guys next year!

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